Biomedical Waste, Infectious Waste, Pathological Waste (Oh My!)

Medical waste can be identified by a few different categories, but not all are the same.

When it comes to medical waste, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.  There are actually several forms of waste that are considered hazardous, and each come with its own unique set of requirements for proper disposal.  Whether it’s biomedical (or biohazardous), infectious waste, or pathological waste, knowing the differences (and similarities) can make all the difference when it comes to compliance.

Biomedical Waste

Biomedical, or biohazardous waste should not be confused with hazardous waste.  The latter can be potentially harmful to both the health of humans and animals as well as to the environment, and is typically found in the form of solids, liquids, gases or sludge.  While both pose a threat to the environment, they are treated very differently when it comes to proper removal.

Biomedical waste is also known as infectious waste, but the words used to define this vary across the industry.  Other terms used include biological waste, medical waste, hospital waste, medical hazardous waste, microbiological waste, pathological waste, and red bag waste.

Biomedical waste comes in several forms, including solid and liquid.  Solid waste includes culture media, personal protective equipment that has been contaminated, and other materials, like sharps, pipette tips, glassware and more.  Liquid waste includes blood, blood products, and bodily fluids.

Sharps containers and all of the contents inside them are considered solid biomedical waste.  It is nearly impossible for an unauthorized person to remove them, and that is for the safety of not only the staff, but for patients as well.  In most states, sharps can only be collected by a licensed medical waste transporter, and must be decontaminated by either incineration or steam sterilization.

Pathological Waste

To break it down further, pathological waste is actually a category of biomedical waste.  The parent category includes infectious animal bedding/feces, human and/or animal pathogens and disposable items contaminated with human blood or body fluids.  Pathological waste should be separated from the rest of the red bag regulated medical waste, as it is slightly different and may warrant its own disposal procedures.  In most states, incineration is the preferred disposal method.

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste is dealt with very differently than biomedical waste.  Once a material is deemed no longer useful and is ready for disposal, it is necessary to consider whether it can be safely and legally put in a dumpster for landfilling, poured down the drain, or set aside as a hazardous waste for special disposal.  You should always refer to local and federal laws to see how to dispose of hazardous waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate biomedical waste management under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the primary authority for regulating workplace standards and employee health and safety, and here at Red Bags, we offer an online OSHA compliance program.

Whether you’re a hospital, laboratory, veterinary office, assisted living facility, tattoo parlor or other facility that produces biomedical waste, Red Bags can provide all of the tools and education necessary to help you safely and dispose of your items.

Want to learn more? Follow Red Bags’ blog to be up to date on the latest happenings in the medical waste industry.

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